President Emmert's Full Response to a Letter to the Editor of Columns on Campaign UW and Tuition Costs
It would be hard to name an issue in higher education that stirs up more debate than tuition. This is quite understandable, given that what students and their families pay for their education is one of the most important investments they will ever make. Unfortunately, this issue is very complex and frequently misunderstood. I hope I can provide some clarity.
Though the University of Washington receives funds from several sources, our core activity—educating students—is funded predominantly from just two: state appropriations and tuition. Presently, state appropriations cover a little less than half the cost of educating a student at the UW. The rest comes from tuition.
It's worth noting how the UW's tuition compares to similar universities. Currently, the cost of tuition at the UW is about 20 percent below the average cost of tuition at our peer universities, and the gap between our tuition and theirs grows wider each year. Indeed, Kiplinger's magazine has rated the UW one of the top ten best values in higher education.
But we don't want students to come to the UW just to get an inexpensive education; we want them to come for our quality as well. We owe it to them to ensure that when they do invest in themselves—and in us—they get the best educational experience we can provide. Frankly, I wish we could secure all the necessary funding from the state and not have to raise tuition to do this. But that is unrealistic, especially in the current economic environment. With the tuition increase, we are able to fund more and better services for students—including additional teachers, counseling staff, and safety enhancements—and to cover the increasing costs of providing education, such as energy costs, library materials, technology updates, etc.
I understand the challenges that tuition poses for students and families. To reduce the burden, the University offers a wide magnitude of financial aid. The UW gives out almost $180 million in financial aid annually, with nearly half of all undergraduates receiving aid. Each year, our undergraduate and graduate students receive more than $27 million in scholarships alone. Half of our students graduate with no debt. And since the launch of the Husky Promise, about 5,600 undergraduates attend the UW each year while paying nothing for tuition. Through these and other efforts, we seek to ensure that students from all economic backgrounds have the opportunity to attend the UW.
Yes, Campaign UW raised $2.68 billion. However, 99% of those funds are designated for specific purposes by the donors—such as support for an engineering scholarship or a history professorship—and it is our fiduciary duty to honor their wishes. But this does not mean that the campaign did not help keep costs affordable for students. One of the primary goals of Campaign UW was increasing scholarship support so more students have access to the UW. To that end, our supporters created 684 new student scholarship and fellowship endowments. These are awards that are funded in perpetuity, ensuring that UW students will benefit from this support for years to come. This includes 228 new scholarship endowments in the last 20 months of the campaign as part of our Students First matching initiative. In total, supporters to Campaign UW contributed over $244 million to support students at the UW, $118 million in Students First awards alone.